Article Contributed by
Joan V. Cusimano Lindquist
With the holiday season approaching and Thanksgiving just around the corner, many Jamestonians may recall the neighborliness that has existed between city residents and one of Jamestown’s oldest organizations that always found its home in Brooklyn Square–the Salvation Army whose campus is now located at 83 South Main Street, just a few blocks from its former home at 24 Harrison Street.
Jamestown’s Salvation Army was originally known as the Swedish Corps of the Salvation Army established on June 29, 1892, and for much of its history, this Christian organization was guided in its good works by commanding officers of Swedish heritage. Dedicated to providing relief services of all kinds to all people, Jamestown’s Salvation Army, now headed by Majors John and Kimberly Merchant, still participates in the life of the city on both the personal and public level which, for the past several years, has included being an active part of the Brooklyn Square Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
In 2004, a year after the first Lost Neighborhood reunion took place, several members of the Lost Neighborhood committee, headed by President Tony Raffa, decided to revive the old tradition of having a tree lighting ceremony in the Brooklyn Square area. For many decades before the demise of the Square, the traffic island in front of the Gifford Building was the site of the city’s official Christmas tree donated by a local family. Bringing back this tradition was paramount in the minds of committee members, but they needed the cooperation of the city and some Brooklyn Square merchants as well as an old neighbor, the Salvation Army. Committee members discovered three beautiful evergreens located in the vicinity of old Brooklyn Square—one located on the Salvation Army property, another near the CVS Pharmacy, and a third next door to Friendly’s Restaurant on the property of the Jamestown Cycle Shop. The proximity of all three trees made this area an ideal spot to revive this wonderful Brooklyn Square Christmas tradition. What remained was to get permission from the city and the local merchants to have this event go forward—and go forward it did! Not only was there enthusiastic agreement among those involved, but Majors Joseph and Marcia Pawlowski, commanding officers of the Salvation Army in 2004, also agreed to host the tree lighting ceremony.
That first year of reviving an old Jamestown tradition set the stage for this annual celebration, which was held the Friday after Thanksgiving, from its inception in 2004 to its final ceremony in 2015. The Christmas tree lighting was often heightened by a program of music from the Salvation Army band, the JHS band, and the St. James choir. Salvation Army food trucks, manned by Army volunteers, provided hot coffee and cocoa. And volunteers from the Lost Neighborhood provided roasted Italian chestnuts, hot soup, chili, and some pasta dishes on those frosty nights. In addition, in 2004 and 2006, Dennis Eckstrom, owner of two teams of Percherons, offered wagon rides around the Big Lots parking lot for attendees. As an added celebration to the holiday season in 2006, the Salvation Army used the tree lighting ceremony to kick off its Red kettle campaign of holiday giving. That 2006 ceremony provided a wonderful opportunity to continue the relationship between Jamestonians and two familiar traditions that grew out of the city’s past: the lighting of the Brooklyn Square Christmas tree and the fund-raising efforts of the Salvation Army during the Christmas season. As Salvation Army Major Richard Best said in 2007, after learning about the history of the Lost Neighborhood and Brooklyn Square, “I’ve made a lot of friends here tonight…We want to be a good neighbor and help the people remember the history and heritage of this neighborhood.”
The celebration continued through Christmas of 2015, which was the final year that the Lost Neighborhood and the Salvation Army joined hands and hearts in the tree lighting event. People grow old, people pass away, and even though there will be no festivities to accompany the tree lighting in years to come, let us remember our city traditions, those who cared enough to keep the spirit of old Brooklyn Square alive, and the memories of Christmases past.